Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 7—New Administration Amid World War I
THE new administration under Joseph F. Rutherford immediately set about in 1917 to reorganize the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters office at Brooklyn, New York, and also to effect changes in the field service, to arrest the downward trend in the Kingdom witness work.* The “pilgrim” service was increased from 69 to 93 traveling representatives of the Society, to visit and strengthen the more than one thousand congregations of dedicated servants of Jehovah spiritually. The volunteer service whereby tracts were distributed on occasional Sundays in front of churches and regularly in house-to-house visits was stimulated, there being distributed in 1917 alone 28,665,000 free copies of new four-page numbers of The Bible Students Monthly. The so-called “pastoral work” was stepped up, which new activity started before Russell’s death as a sort of forerunner to our present back-call or “follow-up” work.
“The activities will in a general way consist of visiting the addresses mentioned [received at public meetings and at Creation Photo-Drama showings], ascertaining interest, removing prejudice, loaning [books]; and the culmination of the project is to interest as many as possible to the extent of gathering them into classes . . . and later to become regular Berean Classes.”*
The colporteur (pioneer) service was expanded from 372 to 461, and in the early part of 1917 for the first time a Bulletin was issued giving periodic service instructions from headquarters to pioneers, this instrument being an ancestor of the present Informant.* Furthermore, several regional conventions were held as part of this great rejuvenation campaign. Likewise the V.D.M. (Verbi Dei Minister or Minister of the Word of God) questionnaire arrangement was pressed to encourage the male associates to train themselves as better ministers of God’s Word, there being a written examination on twenty-two Bible questions that such were asked to answer in writing and submit to the Brooklyn headquarters to check on their qualifications as a V.D.M.* All this resulted in increased field activities for the year 1917.
Not all were happy to follow the Watch Tower Society’s new administration in accelerating the witness work. From the beginning in 1917 there were several leaders who became ambitious for administrative control for themselves. They became unco-operative. One prominent speaker sent forth from the Brooklyn headquarters had to be recalled from his assignment in England because there he arrogantly assumed administrative powers never entrusted to him. Disruption among the British congregations of Jehovah’s people was being caused by him. Upon that one’s return to Brooklyn Bethel, he and four other prominent members of the family began to foment divisive issues. On July 17, 1917, at the Brooklyn Bethel home noon meal, Society’s president Rutherford announced the release of the long-awaited seventh volume in the series of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled “The Finished Mystery.”* “Brother Russell often spoke about writing the Seventh Volume, and one of his last utterances about it was to this effect: ‘Whenever I find the key, I will write the Seventh Volume; and if the Lord gives the key to someone else, he can write it.’”*
Months prior to this, two careful Bible scholars, Fisher and Woodworth, had worked busily in gathering together a commentary out of the Society’s previous publications on the Bible books of Ezekiel and Revelation. That compilation comprised the new book. Release of The Finished Mystery provoked a five-hour rebellious wrangle at the Bethel table, led by the five prominent ones above mentioned, and to whom others of the family chose to join themselves. Such disunity could not be tolerated by the far greater majority of faithful brothers; so the administration authorized the dismissal of not only the five ringleaders but also those who chose to join them in opposition.*
This opposition clique, being dismissed, immediately began to publish letters and other material which they circulated among congregations associated with the Watch Tower Society in this country and abroad. Gradually opposition parties arose in some of those congregations where deceived ones were easily taken captive because of their growing spiritual drowsiness. Such refused to co-operate with the awakening loyal ones in conducting a revitalized work of preaching the Kingdom in that time of growing clergy hostility and persecution.* Thus many congregations came to have a pro-Society group of zealous workers and an anti-Society group of “sick ones” who tried, for their private purposes, to wrest control of the local meetings. This proved to be a very trialsome time.
The ambitious opponents thereafter sought to gain control of the legal corporation, the Watch Tower Society, at the next annual corporation meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, due January, 1918. Because of the dispute as to the legal control of the Society the November 1, 1917, Watch Tower (page 330) suggested a referendum vote by each congregation. By December 15, 813 congregations had sent in their votes, which tallied to show that Rutherford was given 10,869 votes as president out of 11,421 cast; and all the other faithful members of the board of directors as reconstituted in July, 1917, were preferred over the five rebellious ones.* This voting trend proved to be true, for at the corporation meeting held in Pittsburgh January 5, 1918, Rutherford and the others of the board were legally re-elected, and not one of the opponents succeeded in getting voted in.*
The internal crisis came to its full with the occurrence of an outstanding Bible-predicted event, namely, the coming of Jehovah’s “messenger,” Christ Jesus, to Jehovah’s temple for judgment in the spring of 1918, to separate the “faithful and discreet slave” class from the “evil slave” group. (Mal. 3:1-3; Matt. 24:43-51, NW) The cleavage between the two groups became more evident after the opponents’ failure to gain their ends at the 1918 corporation meeting. After that January meeting the opposition leaders remained in Pittsburgh to form a separate organization headed by what they called a “Committee of seven.”* By Memorial time, March 26, 1918, the separation had become irreconcilable, as the opposers chose to celebrate the death of Christ apart from the Society’s faithful congregations.
It had been the Society’s usual practice to publish a partial report of the Memorial attendance as sent to the Society by congregations in this land and abroad, but due to the 1918 disturbances, both internally and externally, the attendance figures were not gathered. However, in 1917 the partial report of the Memorial (April 5) showed 21,274 in attendance as associates of the Society. By 1919 Memorial time (April 13), according to partial report showing attendance of 17,961, it became evident that a minority of less than four thousand had ceased to walk with their faithful former associates.* From this time of separation the “evil slave” group came into further internal disagreements and divisions among themselves. Eventually several other small dissentient groups tried to establish themselves but, after brief existence, disappeared.
In the latter half of 1917 the faithful forefront preachers of the “discreet slave” class energetically took up distribution of The Finished Mystery, for within seven months the Society’s outside printers were busy on the 850,000 edition. “The sale of the Seventh Volume is unparalleled by the sale of any other book known, in the same length of time, excepting the Bible.”* Not only did this book crystallize the opposition of the “evil slave” class, as already indicated, but it also brought forth a most bitter reaction of the clergy in many parts of Christendom. Sunday, December 30, 1917, was the historic date for commencement of the mass distribution through the Sunday volunteer service of ten million copies of the fiery tract, the Bible Students Monthly issue entitled “The Fall of Babylon—Why Christendom Must Now Suffer—The Final Outcome.”* That tabloid-size, four-page tract contained excerpts from The Finished Mystery and came to be a stinging exposure of the clergy. Accompanying this distribution, public lectures were widely given the same day on this same subject.*
On February 12, 1918, the public press contained the following dispatch from Ottawa, Canada:
“The Secretary of State, under the press censorship regulations, has issued warrants forbidding the possession in Canada of a number of publications, amongst which is the book published by the International Bible Students Association, entitled Studies in the Scriptures—The Finished Mystery, generally known as the posthumous publication of Pastor Russell. The Bible Students Monthly, also published by this Association at its office in Brooklyn, New York, is also prohibited circulation in Canada. The possession of any prohibited books lays the possessor open to a fine not exceeding $5,000 and five years in prison.”*
Later, the Winnipeg (Canada) Tribune, after mentioning the banning order above described, said:
“The banned publications are alleged to contain seditious and anti-war statements. Excerpts from one of the recent issues of The Bible Students Monthly were denounced from the pulpit a few weeks ago by Rev. Charles G. Patterson, Pastor of St. Stephen’s Church. Afterward Attorney General Johnson sent to Rev. Patterson for a copy of the publication. The censor’s order is believed to be the direct result.”*
This set off a chain of clergy-inspired actions that were aimed to force the governments of the United States and Canada to destroy the Watch Tower Society and its co-workers.
(To be continued)
Watch Tower 1917, pages 371-375.
W 1916, pp. 331, 332; W 1917, p. 166.
W 1917, p. 220.
W 1916, p. 330; W 1917, p. 167; W 1918, p. 69.
W 1917, p. 372.
W 1917, p. 226.
Harvest Siftings (published by the Watch Tower Society), August 1, 1917, pp. 1-24.
W 1918, p. 79.
W 1917, p. 375.
W 1918, p. 23.
An opposition journal, The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, July 1, 1919, p. 197.
W 1917, p, 157; W 1919, p. 151.
W 1917, p. 373.
W 1917, pp. 354, 374.
W 1918, p. 18.
W 1918, p. 77.
W 1918, p. 77.
[Picture on page 205]
J. F. RUTHERFORD